Forest Service approves six-pack Big Burn chairlift at Snowmass, can be replaced this summer |

Forest Service approves six-pack Big Burn chairlift at Snowmass, can be replaced this summer

One of the first high-speed chairlifts constructed at Snowmass Ski Area is reaching the end of its “operational lifetime” after 33 years and needs to be replaced, the U.S. Forest Service has determined.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams approved Aspen Skiing Co.’s application to replace the high-speed quad chairlift with a six-pack, high-speed lift. The approval was signed Dec. 20 but just announced Thursday.

“There is a need for the project because the existing lift can no longer provide reliable and consistent access to popular intermediate terrain at Snowmass,” the Forest Service’s decision memo said.

The approval gives Skico the green light to replace the lift in the summer. Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company’s intends to install the new lift this summer, if all goes as planned.

“The area served by this lift is some of the most popular terrain on any of our mountains,” Hanle said in an email. “It allows intermediate skiers to get an experience on high alpine terrain with sweeping vistas and an incredible variety of options. Having a new, modern lift serving this terrain is critical to the whole Snowmass experience. We are thrilled our partners at the Forest Service align with us on the importance of installing the new lift quickly.”

Fitzwilliams granted a categorical exclusion for the project, which means it didn’t need to go through a more extensive review process with an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. The proposed lift was consistent with the 2015 Snowmass Mountain Master Development Plan, the Forest Service determined.

While the new lift will hold six passengers per chair rather than four, its capacity will be the same as the old lift at 2,200 passengers per hour, according to the review documents. The new lift will have the same alignment but the bottom terminal will be moved uphill about 250 feet, placing it closer to the Ullrhof restaurant. The relocation of the terminal will make loading easier, the Forest Service said. The upper terminal will remain in the same location.

The Big Burn lift was among the first generation of high-speed lifts that helped transform Snowmass into thae modern ski area in the mid-1980s. It was installed at about the same time as the Coney Glade chair. Prior to its installation, there were long lines to ride a slow, fixed-grip double chairlift on the Big Burn.

In addition to boosting the capacity per chair to six passengers, the new lift may also be the first at Aspen-Snowmass resorts to have a retractable “bubble” that passengers can use to shield themselves from wind and snow. Skico hasn’t decided yet if it will install the bubbles on the chairs, according to the review documents.

The Forest Service didn’t receive any comments pro or con on the proposal during its public scoping process.